Copmparing Catcher In The Rye And Pygmalion And Their Themes

Word Count: 1884

Comparing Catcher in the Rye and Pygmalion and the
Themes They Represent In J. D. Salinger’s novel The
Catcher in the Rye, the main character, Holden Caulfield,
muses at one point on the possibility of escaping from the
world of confusion and “phonies” while George Bernard
Shaw’s main character of Pygmalion, Eliza Dolittle,
struggles to become a phony. The possible reason for this
is that they both come from opposite backgrounds. Holden
is a young, affluent teenager in 1950’s America who
resents materialism and Eliza Dolittle is a young, indigent
woman who is living in Britain during the late 1800’s trying
to meet her material needs and wants. These two seemingly
opposite characters do in fact have something in common:
they, like every other person, are in a constant pursuit of
happiness. This commonality is the basis for the themes
these two stories present. Some of these themes go
unconsidered and this leads to many misunderstandings in
the world. This is why Pygmalion and Catcher in the Rye
are not just stories but, in fact, lessons that are presented in
their themes. These themes teach that being middle or
upper class does not guarantee happiness, treating others
with good manners and equality are important, and
pronunciation and terminology can “put you in your place”
in terms of class. Throughout the world’s history,
pronunciation and the way a language is spoken indicates
one’s place in society. This is quite apparent in Pygmalion.
Eliza is a classic victim of being “put into her place” based
on the way she speaks. She goes to Professor Higgins in
hope that he will give her lessons on how to speak in a
more refined. She says she wants “to be a lady in a flower
shop stead of sellin at the corner of Tottenham Court
Road. But they won’t take me unless I can talk more
genteel” (23). This is precisely why she comes to Henry
Higgins. He knows quite a bit about the study of speech. In
fact, he is a professor of phonetics. He can “pronounce one
hundred thirty vowel sounds” and “place any man within six
miles” of their homes (15). Sometimes he can even place
them within two streets of their homes. When Eliza hears
this, she decides to take advantage of Higgins’ ability and
take lessons from him. She learns a new form of speech
and this newfound way of speaking helps to pass her off as
a duchess at an opera. Holden’s speech also manages to
categorize him: not class-wise, but rather age-wise and
personality-wise. He captures the informal speech of an
average intelligent adolescent. This speech includes both
simple description and cursing. For example, in the
introduction, Holden says, “They’re nice and all,” as well
as, “I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam
autobiography or anything” (1). The term “nice” is an
extremely broad term Holden uses to characterize his
parents. He does not want to disrespect them yet he does
not feel right praising them either. This opening to Holden’s
story shows Holden’s unwillingness to share his views.
However, this gradually changes and he opens up. He uses
the terms “and all” and “or anything” regularly throughout
the novel and because not everyone speaks like this, these
terms make Holden’s speech unique. Holden also feels he
has to confirm what he is saying because he does not quite
believe himself. For example, he says, “I’m a pacifist, if you
want to know the truth” (26). When Holden is particularly
angry, he swears more often. He says “That guy Morrow is
about as sensitive as a god dam toilet seat” (55). His
inability to properly communicate without have to rely on
profanity to express himself shows Holden as a boy
suffering from what some might call “teenage angst.”
Holden, however, rarely shows his angst publicly. For the
most part, he is composed in front of people; especially
adults and strangers. If annoyed about something, he
manages to say what he thinks in such a polite, disguised
way, the people he talks to do not even notice. Holden
believes in manners and treating everyone equally. Before
Holden leaves for Christmas Break, Mr. Spencer invites
him to his house and asks about what the headmaster, Dr.
Thurmer, said to him. Holden replies that Dr. Thurmer
spoke of life being a game, and that one should play it
according to the rules (8). Holden shows no animosity
about Dr. Thurmer’s speech. He accepts it as part of the
educator’s duty even though he knows that life is only a
game if you are on the right side, where all the “hot-shots”
are. Mr. Spencer also lectures